Kason found Harper after only a couple of minutes of searching and immediately filled him in on the offer that Jerald had made him. Harper was as thrilled as he was when he heard about how it might let him get to the ether threshold quicker. He insisted that they go and find Jerald immediately and tell him that they agreed to take part in the experiment.
They found Jerald standing almost exactly where Kason had left him and let him know that they were alright to participate in his project. He seemed almost as happy as they were and immediately went off to notify the other people working on the project. Before he went, he told them that he would get back to them as soon as he got further information.
The rest of the Introduction Fair passed uneventfully and at the end, Kason and Harper left to go back to the dorms, with neither of them having found a society which they were particularly interested in.
The next few days passed as they normally did, except they seemed an age to Kason. He couldn’t stop daydreaming about using magic and wondering what Jerald’s experiment would be about, which just made the time seem to pass even slower. Apart from his impatience, another problem had also cropped up in Kason’s life. One that he had forgotten about, but really should have expected.
Lexia had come to find him the day after the Introduction Fair and proudly announced that she was ready to go off to the Forest whenever he was. Kason had only then remembered the conversation that they had had a while back about going back to the Forest and inwardly groan while trying to think of another suitably plausible excuse he could give for not going.
In the end, he had managed to avoid giving a concrete answer, but ever since that day he had been careful to never allow himself to be in a situation where he was alone with Lexia. So far he had managed to avoid giving any more answers but, as Tarisday rolled around again, he wondered imploringly how long it would take Lexia to forget this reckless adventure of hers.
He spent the rest day completing that week’s assignment from Ms Luxford and hanging around the common room with the rest of his floormates. That is until he received a message from Jerald telling him to come and meet him in the Planetarium. He received the message in the same way he had found out what classroom he was in and promptly dropped the book he was reading at that moment and made his way to the Planetarium.
He entered the building and found that Harper was already there with Jerald. Seeing that he had arrived, Jerald waited for him to reach them and then led Kason and Harper away towards a flight of stairs. They walked across the checkered floor, their shoes making sharp taps as they crossed the stone floor, and up the stairs until they reached a landing. They followed the landing along for a short while, Kason walking close to the bannister on his right so that he could gaze upon the spheres that were suspended in the middle of the building until they reached a wooden door.
Jerald knocked twice on the door and then opened it, holding it open for Kason and Harper to pass through. Kason passed through, saying thanks to Jerald as he did, and examined the room on the other side. It seemed quite old-fashioned, as did the whole building, with dark wooden panels on the walls and floor. It looked as though it might have jumped out from a storybook about times long ago, except that there were sun crystals floating up near the ceiling.
Kason was so caught up in examining the room that he didn’t notice the person sitting on a chair in the corner until they called out a greeting to Jerald. He spun around upon hearing the voice and saw another senior division student, with short black hair and dark skin sitting on one of the teardrop-shaped floating chairs.
Jerald went over to him and sat down, pulling over another of the chairs from a bunch of them which were floating around in one corner of the room. Once he was comfortable, he addressed Kason and Harper.
“This is Randall, he’s probably the one who has put the most effort into this project, so he’ll be the one to introduce you two to it,” Jerald said and motioned for Randall to begin.
The young man beside him cleared his throat, sat further forward in his chair, and began to explain. “Well,” He began in a deep voice, “First let me tell you how glad I am that you agreed to Jerald’s proposal. We’ve almost reached the limit of how far we can test without any actual test subjects and since all of us have ether saturations far above what we’ve designed for, we were quickly approaching a block in our work.”
He lowered his head slightly in their direction and then carried on, “I’m sure you’re both eager to see what it is you’re getting yourselves into so I won’t waste any more time…” He reached into one of the pockets of his uniform and pulled from within, what looked like a normal filter that would be usually be fitted on the front of one of their Regulators. It differed from the normal ones, however, in that this one had a gauze of pure white threads instead of the blue or indigo colours of the ones Kason had seen so far.
Kason and Harper examined it with baffled interest. Taking Randall’s proffering, Harper took the filter into his hands and turned it around, Kason peering over for a closer look as well.
“It looks almost like a normal filter,” Harper commented after a few moments.
“Yes it does,” replied Randall, who had been watching them examine the thing, “and that’s because it is technically just a filter. But not a normal one. This is what we’ve called, for lack of a better name, a self-adjusting filter. You’ll have to wear some headgear while using it, but that lets the filter keep an eye on the saturation of ether in your heads and adjust the ether throughput so that you don’t develop overexposure.
It also uses this to try and adapt the amount of ether it lets through to let you use it for as long as possible. What we want you to do is to give it a go while you sleep, so that we can get some data for how it performs over longer periods of time on real people. You’d have to use it for a couple of months for us to get enough data, but if you feel uncomfortable at any time, you can tell one of us that you want to stop.”
Kason and Harper both nodded, unsure of what exactly they should say. They went back to examining the filter for a bit longer before handing it back to Randall. There was then an awkward moment of silence before Harper spoke.
“So, when do we get to start?” He asked, sounding excited.
“Well, if you want to go ahead with it, then just meet us at Kamadus’ Medical Suite this evening at about nine. We should be able to gather all the equipment together by that time.” Jerald said, “I take it you’re both willing to take part then?”
Kason and Harper’s voices overlapped as they both declared their willingness. Jerald and Randall looked happy with their decision as well and so, a short while later, they all left the building in high spirits, with plans in place to meet in the nexus of the main building later that evening.
The remainder of the day passed slowly for Kason, who was eagerly anticipating the evening to come. At ten minutes to nine that evening, he made his way out of his room and across the courtyard into the main building. There he found Harper, sitting on the pedestal of the statue of the monocled man. He didn’t look a bit tired, despite the relatively late hour, instead, he seemed more awake than ever as Kason sat down next to him to wait for Jerald and Randall to arrive.
Arrive they did a few minutes later, walking at the head of a small troupe of other students who were carrying various bundles in their arms. Upon entering the nexus, they directed the students following them to move all their bundles into the Medical Suite before coming over to Kason and Harper.
“Wait a minute for us to finish moving everything inside, then you can come in.” Said Jerald, before moving off to the Medical Suite to deposit his own bundle.
They waited for a few minutes more, then all the students streamed out into the nexus before dispersing and Jerald popped his head around through the door to tell them to come in. They entered through the door, passed through the small antechamber and entered the room with all the beds.
They were still quite as cluttered as they had been the last time Kason had seen them, except for two which had been cleared of debris, presumably so that he and Harper could use them. Randall was standing beside one of the beds, fiddling around with something that Kason couldn’t see. Kamadus the healer stood beside him, watching. They approached the pair, with Jerald leading them and Kamadus looked up as he saw them.
“Are these the two you’ve roped into your experiment?” He asked, sounding slightly bored.
Jerald nodded and Kamadus sighed before turning to address Kason and Harper, “I don’t envy you unfortunate pair. I suppose it’s a good thing you don’t… Anyway, I’ll just begin the safety talk.”
Kason listened intently to Kamadus as he told them what he would be doing during the experiment, although not as intently as he might have done. He was distracted all the while, by the words that Kamadus had muttered just a short while before. Kason couldn’t be sure, of course, but he was pretty certain that Kamadus had muttered, ‘know how many things can go wrong,’ earlier when he first began speaking to them. Needless to say, this did not exactly instil Kason with confidence, however, his natural excitement over the whole thing made it so that he was able to put that aside.
After Kamadus finished, Randall took over. He presented them with the headgear that they would be wearing, which looked like just silky hoods, and showed them the apparatus he had set up around their beds. There was a regulator positioned near the head of each bed, and also a small diamond shaped blue crystal floating above where one’s head might be when they laid on the bed.
After all the explanations were done, Kason and Harper changed into a set of night clothes and got into the beds; the fabric hoods placed securely on their heads. Jerald and Randall left soon after, saying that they would come to check up on them in the morning, and Kamadus went back to his desk, where he began to leaf through his seemingly endless sheets of paper.
The next morning, Kason awoke feeling refreshed, more so than he normally did. He sat up in his bed and looked around, only remembering that he was in the Medical Suite when he saw the other beds and the morning sun streaming through the windows. Kamadus, who was still sitting at his desk as though he had never moved, noticed he was awake and gave him a terse morning greeting before returning to his work.
Kason looked around at Harper and found that he was still asleep, drooling slightly from a half-open mouth. Kason stayed in his bed for a few more minutes, before getting up and changing back into his uniform. He checked the ring on his finger and found that it was about a quarter to seven in the morning. He wondered when Jerald or Randall would turn up. After all, they had said they would visit in the morning and he had lessons today and so couldn’t just stay and wait for them.
Luckily, Jerald turned up only a few minutes later; right at the same time as Harper woke up. He gave them a morning greeting before snatching the light blue crystals out of the air from above their beds and pocketing them.
“These contain the records of the devices’ functioning during the night,” he explained as he did so.
He then told them that they could leave the rest of the equipment where it was for the day and to come back at the same time as last evening before leaving.
The day passed by quickly, and soon Kason and Harper were back in the Medical Suite to get suited up again. That night went by equally smoothly and soon a whole week had gone by since they started the experiment.
Kason felt that the whole thing was going great. He had asked Ms Luxford to give him an extra saturation measurement at the end of the week, and she had obliged. This showed him that his saturation had increased marginally more than it usually did over a week and, even though it was only marginally, Kason felt over the moon.
This feeling continued throughout the following days until, on the second night of the second week, he was awoken in the middle of the night to find Kamadus standing over him. Seeing that he was awake, the healer looked at him gravely, as if weighing what he should say. Eventually, he opened his mouth and said that the experiment would have to be postponed.
A problem had occurred.